UN lauds Asia-Pacific countries for championing sustainability, but warns that 2030 goalpost remains decades out of reach

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The United Nations has lauded countries in the Asia-Pacific region for demonstrating an ongoing commitment to sustainable development despite facing unprecedented recent challenges such as intensifying climate change, health crises and geopolitical conflicts.

The Asia and the Pacific Sustainable Development Goals Progress Report 2023 issued today by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) spotlights several heartening evidence-based national initiatives such as reducing child marriages in India, increasing the rate of births attended by skilled personnel in Timor-Leste, improving the processing of identity documents for Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and a Clean Air Plan to tackle air pollution in Cambodia.

However, this year’s report also warns that at the midpoint mark, the region has only achieved 14.4 per cent of progress needed. At the current pace, Asia and the Pacific will miss 90 per cent of the 118 measurable SDG targets by 2030 unless efforts are multiplied.

“While there are impressive national accomplishments across the 17 Goals, none of the countries in the region are on track to reach them and overall achievement is much lower than anticipated for the midpoint,” underscored Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP.

She added, “In developed and developing countries alike, persistent data gaps remain. Governments must renew their commitments to producing relevant, timely, granular, high-quality information to monitor and review the march towards the SDGs.”

In 2022, the areas of greatest progress for the Asia-Pacific region were affordable and clean energy (Goal 7) and industry, innovation and infrastructure (Goal 9). Progress towards achieving Goal 7 was largely driven by achievements in access to electricity and international support for clean and renewable energy, while there was little progress in the share of renewable energy consumption. Progress towards achieving Goal 9 was driven by successes in mobile network coverage and total official flows for infrastructure development in the least developed countries.

However, progress towards climate action (Goal 13) is slipping away. The region is both a victim of the impact of climate change and a perpetrator of climate change, with a responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Countries are not on track to achieve greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. The region is also regressing on Goal 13 owing to the increase in deaths and missing persons attributed to disasters.

While there is enough data for countries to act with greater ambition on the implementation of the SDGs, data availability for evidence-based follow-up and review remains a significant hurdle in implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The report notes significant data gaps in Goal 5 (gender equality), Goal 14 (life below water) and Goal 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions), each with less than 30 per cent sufficient data available.

An annual flagship publication, in partnership with seven other UN agencies, the Asia and the Pacific SDG Progress Report 2023 uses the latest data for global SDG indicators to determine where additional effort is needed in the region and where momentum for future progress is building. This year’s report provides further analysis on COVID-19 impacts on sustainable development, the progress in countries with special situations as well as recommendations to bridge data gaps.